All Faithful Departed

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, and then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.


About This Commemoration


In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.


Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day–as a sort of extension of All Saints–on which the Church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church. It was also a day of particular remembrance of family members and friends.


Though the observance of the day was abolished at the Reformation because of abuses connected with Masses for the dead, a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.


The Collects


I. O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of thy Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as thy children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


II. O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. Amen.


Psalm 130 or 116:10-17


Wisdom 3:1-9

or Isaiah 25:6-9

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

or I Corinthians 15:50-58

John 5:24-27


Preface of the Commemoration of the Dead

7 thoughts on “All Faithful Departed

  1. Readings. For all other entries that are not part of the Book of Common Prayer 1979>/i> we have chosen one set of lessons. For this commemoration we have choices for the Hebrew reading, Psalm, and the New Testament reading. Why have we not chosen one each as in all other commemorations? Why does ‘All Faithful Departed’ deserve to be the one non-conforming commemoration in this regard?

  2. I’m not sure that you really want comments on this one, but the intended purpose of this feast has never been entirely clear to me. All Saints’ honors the elect, whether known by name or not, so who exactly are the “faithful departed” honored here? The text implies that they are those Christians who, had they lived their faith on a larger stage or been blessed with a better biographer, would have merited a date of their own. But aren’t those among the saints sine nomine honored on November 1?
    The Romish All Souls’ Day, which seems to be our feast’s prototype, calls upon the church to pray for those in purgatory. The saints in heaven have no need of prayer, and the church militant has no power to help those in hell (as Biagio da Cesena discovered to his eternal chagrin). (As I read it, the HWHM/LFF text is simply wrong on the purpose of the ancient feast, although the account may contain one genuine date.)
    The Romans may be in error, but at least they know what they’re trying to do. As the feast is actually observed in Episcopal churches (and I suspect in the pews, at least, of Roman Catholic ones), it remembers the dearly departed of the local congregation. For those observances, the collect’s “faithful departed” is jarring. Many of our loved ones’ faith may have been known to God, but it was not much in evidence to us. The phrase also invites – or perhaps requires – us to judge which of the departed are faithful and which are not, an authority which is a bit above most of our pay grades.
    The collect is easily fixed (strike the word “faithful”), but that fix would mangle the title. “All Souls’ Day” may be Romish, but at least it can be read to match who we really pray for in our churches.

  3. All Faithful Departed
    I have to agree with Steve Lusk that there is a certain redundancy in having a feast one day for ALL saints, and the next day for ALL faithful departed. In the (RC) church of my youth it was clear that the former was for those “souls” in heaven (no resurrected bodies were mentioned, although there was one unquestionable assumption as I recall – nothing about Elijah or Enoch, though), whereas the other day was specifically devoted to praying the “poor suffering souls in purgatory” a bit closer to their eternal goal. This doesn’t sit well with Anglican doctrine, even if purgatory is left open to take or leave devotionally, and if “taken” then left open to individual understandings, although “Articles of Religion” #22 would seem less than amenable to that option.
    Nevertheless, historically, my understanding is that All Saints was at first specifically dedicated to those who met their earthly end as martyrs – “red” martyrs. If that were so, All Faithful Departed would still make sense, since not all the faithful were martyred. The fact is, that’s NOT how All Saints and All Faithful Departed is taken. Again, I think Steve is right in contending that All Saints is given over to “famous” deceased Christians, while All Faithful Departed leans towards a combination of “unknown Christians” plus local remembrances.
    The title “All Faithful Departed” is often naively abandoned in favor of the Roman nomenclature of “All Souls Day.” The difference does make a difference. The latter abandons Biblical teaching and Christian doctrine about the resurrection of the body, acquiescing to the more Gnostic dualistic idea of a transmigration of disembodied souls, implicitly denigrating the goodness of creation, incarnation, and the value of this life, except as a test to reach what matters, the “real” goal. Our actual terminology of “All Faithful Departed” avoids the dualism, but the simplicity and appeal of “All Souls Day” often triumphs anyway, as an all too seductive, familiar and irresistable substitute. N. T. Wright deals with this in his book, “Surprised by Hope,” including an account of how many of our official prayers and hymns abandon the teachings of resurrection in favor of the other view.
    I find it interesting that the AV Old Testament uses “saints” 39 times, whereas NRSV has “saints” only once (Ps. 31:23, otherwise substituting “holy ones” or “faithful ones”). NIV translates as “saint/s” 24 times in the OT. Also, in our creedal tradition we have the descent of Jesus to “hell” – the harrowing of hell – presumably to accomplish something not doctrinally defined, but not necessarily (or logically) strictly limited to Christians. (Wikipedia’s article on “harrowing of hell” is good.) It seems ironic that, even as we grow more inclusive and ecumenical in many regards, this particular celebration is tamed and restricted in inverse proportions. Even the brevity of explanation for the day in LFF and HWHM suggests reticence about its meaningfulness. The doctrine of the Communion of Saints, God’s purposes in salvation, and the eschatological (and proleptic) implications of the Kingdom of God could well be emphasized here. (All discussed in the Wright book, mentioned above.) I’m glad we celebrate “All Faithful Departed” in our calendar, but I’m also surprised it seems to be left as something of a “Do It Yourself” commemoration. It could easily be strengthened.
    About the collect: Overall, it’s not a bad collect. It limits the benefits of Jesus’ life to his passion, which seems like a waste of about 32 ½ years. And, it limits the consequence clause to what happens on judgment day – although there, too, what it asks is proper on that day. I’m a bit impatient that it misses the opportunity to show the communion of saints as having something to do with daily life and with God’s ongoing purpose embodied in real time — and in real bodies. By focusing only on life after death it supports the idea that earthly life, the church, the ministry, relationships, various causes, spiritual growth, etc., is all preliminary, and in that sense not “the real thing.” Yet, it DOES count, and it IS real, too.
    II. O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. Amen.

  4. I was so excited to find this blog. We have recently started a short adult education opportunity using Holy Men and Women as a text. Last week was our first lesson! In researching information for the lesson I became inspired while reading about our Saints and have made it a goal to use one a week in my own meditation. Your blog will hopefully help in that endeaver!


    Hi Michael, Next time we need your last name, too.
    The HWHM blog team

  5. I grew up with the double celebration. I heard it well befended by John Heus the late rector of Trinity Wall Street in sermon as the feasts respectively of the Christian aristocracy and the Christian democracy. I have always seen them as two saides of the same coin. Giveing thanks for the lives lives of all the saints, and praying for those whom we know and for whom we still mourn,
    It’s like the Russian contankion at the funeral, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

  6. I add an “Amen” to Dr Mitchell’s comment. Those who are formed and wish to continue to worship in the Catholic stream of Anglicanism need to be allowed to recognize the distinction between these cognate observances. (I should add that the RCL propers for All Saints seem to confuse the two days, which I find quite unfortunate.)

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